On Bowen, we have an asset that very few communities have. We live in a dark place. Yes, in the short days of winter that can be difficult. But at night, it may be a very good thing indeed.
Too much light at night can rob you of sleep and make you sick. Light may in fact be a major cause of ill health in the lit-up western world. Even cancer, diabetes, and heart disease. Or so say scientists and doctors in a documentary called Lights Out! that ran recently on CBC’s The Nature of Things series.
In the calendar of human history, we’ve had electric light for a very short time. But our cities and towns are now so bright at night that we’re messing with our brains’ sleep chemistry. We’re programmed to sleep in the dark, and any amount of light will affect the deepness of that sleep. Blue light--the colour of daylight--tells the brain it’s morning, and time to wake up. Red light--the colour of sunset--tells it to begin preparing for rest.
Televisions, smart phones, and computers also display light in the blue part of the light spectrum. So sleep experts advise no screen exposure in the final hour before bed--and never in the middle of the night. Turning on any lights at night will begin to trigger the waking process. For people who need to get up during the night, red nightlights are recommended. They can be found in hardware stores. Or keep a flashlight by the bed and use as little light as necessary to move around. You’ll get back to sleep faster.
Quite apart from sleep and health concerns, the International Dark-Sky Association promotes lights out at night for energy conservation, and simply to allow more people to see the stars again.
Without much public and commercial lighting, we on Bowen have far more control over our nighttime light exposure than most of the developed world. But that means we’re also at the mercy of our neighbours. In an otherwise dark neighbourhood, one outdoor floodlight can light up a very wide area, including your neighbour’s bedroom, even when it isn’t affecting your own.
So please think about turning your outdoor lights off at night. You’ll cut back on your hydro use, one of the few ways both to save money and to help the environment; you’ll improve your health with a better sleep; and we’ll all be able to see the stars--on the rare occasions when the rain stops.
The Lights Out! documentary is still available for streaming on CBC’s The Nature of Things website (hwww.cbc.ca/natureofthings/episodes/lights-out). But don’t watch it at bedtime.